...its readers were invited to share in the experience of witnessing Vesuvius erupting. This was primarily achieved by the outstanding illustrations that showed the eruptions from different vantage points and depicted various rock samples. The plates proved to be the book’s defining feature, more popular than the text itself. Landscape art was popular and many Grand Tourists commissioned paintings of their destinations as a way of commemorating their journey and proving themselves to be seasoned travellers. The plates of Campi Phlegraei provided ready made souvenirs and were often torn out and displayed in their own right. As such, complete copies are rare today.
The expense of commissioning such a large number of hand coloured plates for the work almost crippled Hamilton. Having funded the publication entirely without subscription, the undertaking put him under huge financial strain. Returning to Britain in 1801, his collection of pictures was sold at Christies for £6000 and his vases for £4000 - and yet his debts remained, many incurred by his second wife, Emma. The cumulative cost of the book, his collections and his entertaining were ruinous to Hamilton.
Hamilton's Vesuvian apparatus was a work of art, reinforced with machinery, purposely designed to convey the tremendous force, the rapidly changing aspect, and the terrific noise of a volcanic eruption in a manner far more realistic then would have been possible with a conventional painting. It was composed of a large colourful painted transparency showing the eruption of Vesuvius, lit up from behind by a complex mechanical device activated by clockwork. Replete with special effects, it produced the striking impression of a continuous stream of lava and sporadic outbursts from the crater, accompanied by thunderous blasts of eruptions.
...the material in a pyroclastic surge is baked in a subterranean magma chamber to temperatures of up to 1650°F (899°C). The initial surge of the Avellino eruption [in 1780 BC], especially in the zones closest to Vesuvius, was instantly lethal. Hot, choking wind, advancing at about 240 miles (386 kilometers) an hour, reached temperatures of at least 900°F (482°C), and retained enough heat to bring water to a boil ten miles (16 kilometers) from the vent.
"Below 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93°C), you can survive for several seconds, perhaps, if the wave passes quickly," Mastrolorenzo pointed out. "But even if you survive the temperature, you will suffocate on the fine powder in the air. The entire countryside surrounding Vesuvius was covered by foot upon foot of this powder, 65 feet (20 meters) deep at a distance of three miles (five kilometers) from the crater to about ten inches (25 centimeters) thick at a distance of 15 miles (24 kilometers). Eight inches (20 centimeters) of ash is enough to cause modern roofs to collapse."
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